Those spur-of-the-moment equipment choices are of great importance in Pantheon Cycle because the most satisfying aspect of the game – player character skill progression – revolves around them. Characters gradually earn skill points as they’re repeatedly used in battle, and these can be expended on “disciplines” associated with the six elemental energies and the various weapons each character may equip. Interaction between elemental and weapon disciplines tends to be heavy for most characters, and skill points are such a premium commodity that players will be tempted to have each character specialize in just one weapon out of the dozens he or she can choose from; the motivation for more than one playthrough thus becomes obvious. Character deaths are permanent – no resurrection items or spells appear to be on offer – but players will eagerly take advantage of the option to re-start a battle when a heavily invested character happens to bite the dust.
Strategy game veterans will wonder how the touch interface holds up when characters and enemies are closely packed together on the battlefield’s hex grid. Thankfully the developers foresaw the obvious problems and built redundancies into the interface: the player can cycle through active characters via direct taps on their images or on their name labels toward the bottom of the iDevice screen.
While activating characters and choosing targets work without a hitch, the virtual buttons for executing actions and movements could stand some enlargement: their narrow rectangular shape lends them to being missed by the player’s finger. Interestingly, I found that flaws in virtual button reliability become much less noticeable when multiple actions are packed together in a list; i.e., it seems easier to pick the middle option out of several the active character has learned than it is to execute a single available action. As a result, touch control issues are noticeable toward the start of a playthrough but dissipate as player characters build their skillsets.
With just over 30 battles on offer, Pantheon Cycle boasts a very lengthy playthrough that should keep strategy fans well occupied regardless of whether they want to experiment with different character growth paths over multiple playthroughs. On the downside, a fair chunk of gameplay time is spent roving battlefields for treasure once all enemies have been vanquished from the maps; even when no enemies remain the player must shift his or her units around subject to the confines of their action points, continuing to manually end player phases before said action points regenerate so the search may proceed.
For all of Pantheon Cycle‘s focus on battle, it’s unfortunate that the game’s most impressive aesthetic assets lie everywhere else. Lovely Celtic tunes and art stills will have the player convinced that he or she has stepped into medieval Ireland during the story sequences, but the game’s palpable atmosphere collapses into utter silence and units that pass for unanimated cardboard standups in battle. The expected array of spells do add some much needed visual flair as they become available and the consistently excellent sound effects work lends player characters what little personality they have.
iFanzine Verdict: If you’re already a veteran of Turn-Based Strategy games and looking for a title with enough meat and complexity to really sink your teeth into, you’ll probably appreciate Pantheon Cycle enough to overlook its quirks. On the other hand, if you aren’t initiated in the genre you probably won’t find enough to get excited about here, given its under-utilized plot, lack of aesthetic flair where it counts most, and a few game design decisions that introduce a bit of challenging realism at the cost of user friendliness.